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Plagued by the corrupt and the conceited

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By Hilal Suhaib | April 26, 2014

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Angelo Mathews, the obvious choice for captain in all formats, continues to be deprived of T20 captaincy. © AFP

Dinesh Chandimal departed for Bangladesh in March as the leader of the national cricket team. The 24-year-old arrived at the World Twenty20 tournament with hopes of captaining Sri Lanka to a World Cup win, but returned to the island in April as a discard, with no place for him in the playing XI and stripped of captaincy. Chandimal won’t be overjoyed at what took place, and it won’t do any good to his confidence either, no matter how happy he looks on your TV screens. The blame rests squarely on the selectors for thrusting captaincy upon a young batsman who had not cemented his place in the T20 side, and the selectors have now admitted that the move backfired and that the added pressure on Chandimal indeed hindered him.

Why does Sri Lanka need split-captaincy? Why on earth would the selectors not allow Angelo Mathews to captain in all formats? The chairman of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya, the man who can best answer that question, has yet to provide a sound explanation as to why he deprived Mathews of T20 captaincy. He has however been extremely busy criticising his former team-mates to the media during the recent World Cup campaign, and causing anguish to players when they needed peace of mind to focus on the tournament.

Just as they did when appointing Chandimal as captain of the T20 side, the selectors appear to have blundered yet again by appointing Lahiru Thirimanne as vice-captain of the Test side — the left-handed batsman did not feature in Sri Lanka’s last two Test series. Thirimanne is an immensely skilled player and he may even relish the leadership opportunity and cement his place. He is certain to be a regular in Sri Lanka’s Test sides in the future. However, at this point in time, like in Chandimal’s case, Thirimanne not only has to secure a place in the Test side with his performances, but now he has the added burden of being the vice-captain. It is not far-fetched to think that he would be under pressure to avoid Chandimal’s fate. Is appointing him vice-captain of the Test side, when he is not a regular in the Test side, a wise move then?

The chairman of selectors, who is also the deputy minister of Postal Services, appears to have far too much on his plate. Along with selection matters, he is tasked with recruiting coaches, negotiating in contract disputes between SLC and the players, as well as being a spokesperson for the board.

Not too long ago, Jayasuriya told the media that Malinga was unfit and had to be recalled from the BBL in Australia to work with local coaches. Shortly after forcing the fast bowler to return, he changed his mind. Less than a fortnight after the chief selector claimed that he had a "serious fitness issue" and criticised his commitment and work ethic in public, Malinga was back in Australia for the BBL. Malinga’s fitness, commitment and skills earns him millions in leagues such as the IPL, CPL, and BBL, with no team ever complaining of his physical condition or his dedication, but bizarrely it is not good enough for Jayasuriya. No one but Jayasuriya can explain the purpose of that ridiculous exercise. Malinga was unnecessarily inconvenienced and is likely to have incurred travel expenses and a loss of wages. Malinga is now a World Cup-winning captain, and Jayasuriya’s attitude towards him appears to have almost instantly changed. What we do not need is Jayasuriya’s ego taking over.

PhotoJayasuriya is in the executive committee as the chairman of selectors, and his job should be directing his panel of selectors to pick the best playing XI for the nation and preparing the next generation of Sri Lankan cricketers for international cricket, and nothing else. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that Jayasuriya is SLC’s go-to man for contract negotiations, because he is their ‘good cop’ when they make a mockery of the players’ intelligence with good cop/bad cop tactics during contract stand-offs.

So, have the rookie selectors done a decent job thus far? Yes, some credit is due. But fans who still adore Jayasuriya the player and others who don’t follow the news keenly enough, tend to point to the number of young players that have been given an opportunity as proof that the selectors have been doing a satisfactory job. But the constant infusion of youth into the side means regular changes to the side, which will see players discarded too soon without a prolonged and proper opportunity to succeed, hurting Sri Lanka on the long run.

An honest assessment of the selectors will bring to light many a gaffe, including the fact that the Chandimal experiment was a major bungling, but one that was not too hard to foresee coming. The selectors blundered in that regard, just as they did when they axed deserved under-19 players recently from the ICC Under-19 World Cup squad to make way for Chamapaka Ramanayake’s son and players from Jayasuriya’s hometown Matara. Sri Lanka U19 did miserably at the World Cup, and if the selectors deserve praise for Sri Lanka’s World Twenty20 win, should they not hold blame for our failures too?

When the selectors, several politicians themselves, pick a young player out of oblivion, and that player happens to be a fellow politician’s son, it will lead to allegations of favouritism, and it should rightly draw concern and criticism from those who are passionate about Sri Lankan cricket. The selectors, especially the politicians within the selection panel, have their records forever blemished for their decision to allow Ramith Rambukwella, the son of a high-ranking politician, to debut for Sri Lanka at the expense of players with far more accomplished domestic records. No honest assessment of the selectors’ performance can over look Rambukwella’s debut.

Then, another politician — the sports minister — eventually has to approve squads picked by the selection panel, with the sports minister possessing the authority to overrule the selectors’ choices, so the entire selection process is currently controlled by two ruling party MPs — Jayasuriya and the sports minister. It’s a broken system that has been easily corrupted.

The unexpected departure of coach Paul Farbrace is yet another administrator-orchestrated setback that the players have to contend with. Sri Lanka are yet again on the hunt for a coach — their seventh in four years. It has been reported that when Sri Lanka were struggling to find a coach to replace Graham Ford last year, Jayasuriya was instrumental in convincing the executive committee to hire Farbrace, who had initially not been keen on leaving Yorkshire. The mere fact that top coaches were not interested in working with SLC, and that SLC had to turn to an individual who was Yorkshire’s second XI coach and needed convincing to come on board, portrays SLC’s terrible reputation as an employer and the board’s inability to make prudent decisions. The board reportedly forked out a large sum to secure Farbrace’s release from Yorkshire too.

There have also been rumours that Farbrace was not paid on time in his four months with the team which, along with the low wages SLC has budget for a head coach, does not inspire loyalty to SLC or allow the board to find a reputed coach who can actually make a worthwhile contribution. Farbrace was initially uninterested, then convinced to accept and finally put on probation for six months, so taking England’s offer was an easy decision for him. Farbrace will take with him an extensive knowledge of Sri Lankan players, which England will no doubt relish when Sri Lanka arrive on their shores next month. So, who really holds the blame for Farbrace’s defection? It doesn’t take much to figure it out.

After being short-listed for the vacancy last year, Marvan Atapattu was overlooked for Farbrace because there was talk that it would not be right for Atapattu to coach a team that still has several players who he played alongside with. That principle strangely does not apply to Jayasuriya. Not only did Jayasuriya play alongside several of the current crop, but he made it known that he was unhappy with the then chairman of selectors Aravinda de Silva, captain Kumar Sangakkara and vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene for leaving him out of the 2011 World Cup. Jayasuriya, who was 42 at the time, had hoped to bid farewell to international cricket at the 2011 World Cup. Despite this, he was made chairman of selectors by sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage. Jayasuriya even had to defend himself to the media when he was first appointed, promising that he won’t be vindictive as a selector. Could there be anyone more unsuited to be a selector?

A fine batsman in his time and a former captain, there is no question over Atapattu’s knowledge of the game and his ability to coach, but the wavering principles of SLC officials will once again be exposed, and allegations of nepotism will be levelled at the board and the SLC secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, as Atapattu’s sister is married to a Ranatunga. Shortly after Farbrace fled, it was announced that Atapattu will serve as a temporary head coach, but the move has outraged an executive committee member. The appointment apparently had been made without the knowledge and approval of all members of the SLC executive committee.

In addition, the SLC secretary has what critics call a detrimental hold on Sri Lankan cricket, with a number of his allies in important positions within the board. In a column published last year in The Island newspaper, the paper’s sports editor Rex Clementine highlighted the close relationship between the selectors and the board secretary.

"Three of the five selectors, when they began their cricket careers, arrived from rural areas such as Matara and Kurunegala and they found shelter at the Ranatunga family home at Borella," Clementine revealed. "Chaminda Mendis, another selector hails from Colts CC, the same club that Nishantha represented while Hashan Tillekeratne, the fifth selector, is one of Nishantha’s close aides. That gives the cricket board secretary significant control over the selection panel."

PhotoSri Lanka’s current team manager Michael de Zoysa ran for the post of secretary at the SLC election and withdrew at the last minute, allowing Ranatunga to win the post. Only after this gesture by de Zoysa was he appointed the team manager. In a series of leaked e-mails recently published in a Sri Lankan newspaper, de Zoysa and Jayasuriya were berating Mahela Jayawardene for his decision to criticise Ranatunga at the press conference held when the team arrived with the World Twenty20 trophy. They batted well for their man.

From comments throughout this website and on social media, the impression one tends to get is that the Sri Lankan public, the fans who keep this sport alive, are tired of the incompetence and the corruption within SLC. Sri Lanka cricket fans have witnessed government-backed officials bringing down the cricket board with unprecedented debt and amassing more debt, they watched officials build a stadium named after the president to take the 2011 World Cup to the Sri Lankan president’s hometown of Hambantota (at a colossal loss to the board); they have witnessed officials awarding TV rights to a channel owned by the president’s family, and not paying players or support staff on time, in addition to the unnecessary mental anguish they subject our match-winners to, and during important tours at that too.

Fans want competent administrators at SLC to back their beloved team, not the inept and corrupt political lackeys who continue to win SLC elections uncontested. A petition by fans against the conduct of SLC officials has already gathered more than 1000 signatures, and this is significant because Sri Lankan fans are not the type to petition and protest against cricket administrators.

Sri Lankan cricketers have to deal with the seemingly never-ending mayhem caused by deeply conceited officials who think that the players must revere them, which is what makes Sri Lanka’s World Cup win all the more special. Sri Lankan players not only have tough opposition to contend with on the field, but they also have to deal with the backstabbers and blockheads within their own camp. Sri Lanka Cricket is in dire need of honest, humble servants to safeguard our sport not politicians, celebrities and egotistical former cricketers.

The SLC secretary Ranatunga, who has been in conflict with senior players in recent times, had some interesting comments on Sri Lanka’s World Twenty20 win. "Now that they won a trophy finally, there are vibrations and even some players tend to think that they are indispensable," Ranatunga told Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times. With such statements, the man who heads the cricket board has displayed to the public how petty-minded he truly is.

Administrators are aplenty and easily replaceable, while skilled cricketers are not. The public understands this, which is why in any battle that SLC officials draw the players into, the public will always stand by Sri Lanka Cricket’s most-valued assets — the players.

© Island Cricket

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